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Marijuana Dispute Leads to Cartel-Style Mass Shooting north of Adelanto; 6 Bodies Found, 5 men arrested

Unincorporated Adelanto, Calif. (VVNG.com) – At a press conference on Monday, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department announced the arrest of 5 male adults on charges of murder in the aftermath of a cartel-style mass shooting event that left six dead in unincorporated Adelanto.

Several of the arrests were made on a compound of a marijuana growth facility that was being formed that wasn’t active yet. Authorities suspect that a conflict related to illicit marijuana led to the murders.

This arrest came swiftly after the grim finding of six bodies in a remote part of El Mirage in the Mojave Desert last week.

“It certainly looks like it has the modeling of cartel cases,” commented Sheriff Shannon Dicus of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

The tragic discovery was initially made on the evening of January 23, 2024, when dispatchers received a 911 call from a subject who spoke Spanish. The caller told dispatchers he was shot but he did not know the location he was at, and it appeared the call ended.

Dispatchers tracked the phone to a remote location within the unincorporated Adelanto desert area near Lessing Avenue.

The California Highway Patrol Airship was called upon to support the deputies’ search efforts due to the remoteness of the area. From their aerial vantage point, the officers were able to identify a crime scene featuring what seemed to be victims of multiple gunshot wounds. Alongside the victims, two vehicles were spotted; one, a Dodge Caravan, bore the evidence of numerous gunshots. The second vehicle identified at the scene was a Chevy Trailblazer.

Subsequently, the area a few miles from the intersection of Shadow Mountain Road and Highway 395 was designated as a crime scene, attracting a flurry of investigative activity.

The remains of all six individuals discovered were confirmed to be male. Four of the men had been set on fire and severely burned, while another was located inside a Chevy Trail Blazer. The last of the six was found a short distance from the others. It has been determined that they all succumbed to injuries consistent with gunshot wounds.

Through extensive investigation, investigators determined the victims had arranged to meet at the location for a marijuana transaction. 

Identified Victims Affected:

  • Individual #1: Baldemar Mondragon-Albarran, a 34-year-old resident of Adelanto.
  • Individual #2: Franklin Noel Bonilla, a 22-year-old Hispanic male from Hesperia.
  • Individual #3: Kevin Dariel Bonilla, 25 years old, also a Hispanic male from Hesperia.
  • Individual #4: A Hispanic male adult, aged 45, whose identity is currently withheld until the notification of family members.

Unidentified Individuals:

  • The identities of Individuals #5 and #6 are currently unknown.

Investigators believe Franklin Bonilla was the subject who called 911 after being shot by the suspects.

It took the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department only five days post-discovery of the gruesome scene to make the arrests.

On January 28, law enforcement executed several search warrants in the High Desert cities of Apple Valley, Adelanto, and Pinon Hills which is located in Los Angeles County, and arrested five adult males. Authorities say they are confident they have all involved suspects.

Five Suspects Named:

  • Mateo Baez-Duarte, age 24, hails from Apple Valley
  • Toniel Baez-Duarte, age 34, also a resident of Apple Valley
  • Jose Nicolas Hernandez-Sarabia, age 33, living in Adelanto
  • Jose Gregorio Hernandez-Sarabia, age 34, from Adelanto
  • Jose Manuel Burgos Parra, age 26, based in Adelanto

Of those two arrested, The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Specialized Investigations Division, Homicide Detail, apprehended two sets of brothers, in which a resident video recorded a small clip of the S.W.A.T. vehicle at the house of the Apple Valley brothers.

In a dramatic scene recounted by neighborhood eyewitness, a S.W.A.T. team from the local Sheriff’s Station announced demands over a loudspeaker in both English and Spanish for brothers Toniel Baez Duarte and Mateo Baez Duarte, residents of Apple Valley, to come out of their residence unarmed. At the time of the announcement, the suspects were not present at the location.

The older of the two brothers, Toniel, 34, a laborer by trade, was captured around 2:00 pm near the Pearblossom Highway’s intersection with Highway 138 in Los Angeles County, not far from his home. He was booked at High Desert Detention Center without bail.

His brother Mateo, nine years his junior and self-employed, was detained around the same in Adelanto.

“For all intent and purposes, it looks like illicit marijuana was the driving force behind these murders and that’s all we really know at this point. I think we need to acknowledge why we’re here and why we’re talking about illicit marijuana,” Officials said at the press conference.

“The reality is Proposition 64 took illicit marijuana and moved it from a felony to a misdemeanor,” Dicus stated. “The reality of this is by allowing that, we have unleashed a plague here in California. The plague is the black market or marijuana and certainly cartel activity.”

Sheriff Dicus mentioned that some of the victims identified may originally be from Honduras. He stated that they are coordinating with the consulate to ascertain their legal statuses.

During the media briefing, one journalist inquired whether the authorities suspected cartel involvement in the murder case. The investigating officer mentioned that while the investigation remains active, there were elements found at the crime scene suggestive of a high degree of brutality, which naturally prompts further inquiry. However, the officer noted, “But at this point in the investigation, we can’t comment on if we believe this is cartel-related or not.”

A reporter asked how many other murders are ongoing because of the illegal marijuana growing in your area. The sheriff responded by saying, “Just speaking to San Bernardino County now, obviously anytime you have mass six people that are murdered, I mean that’s shocking to your conscience, let’s be honest. But I can tell you that since we’ve been investigating illegal marijuana grows, a number of body dumps and things have been related to this across our county, and to give you an exact number, I’m sorry, I don’t have that.”

In the last year, the sheriff’s marijuana enforcement teams served a total of 411 search warrants for illegal marijuana grows, discovered 14 honey oil labs, recovered 655,000 marijuana plants, 74,000 lbs. of processed marijuana, and 370 million dollars.

“During that period of time our teams served 11 search warrants in the immediate area where the murders took place. They served approximately 40 search warrants to the west of that area that we call the Shadow Mountain Area. So this is an area known for illicit marijuana.”

Most recently, a woman’s body was found in a trash bag along the northbound 15 freeway. No arrests have been made in that incident.

This is a developing story.

Stay with us for the latest on this ongoing investigation and visit VVNG.com for real-time updates.

RELATED ARTICLES:

READ: San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Announces Arrests After Six Bodies Found in El Mirage

READ: Update: Six Bodies Found in Remote Desert Location Near Highway 395 in El Mirage

READ: UPDATED: Six Bodies Found Near Highway 395 near Adelanto; Investigation Underway


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